Otto Warmbier, the University of Virginia student who was detained in North Korea for nearly a year and a half, died Monday afternoon, days after he returned home in a coma, his parents announced.
Warmbier, 22, had been medically evacuated last week and was being treated at the University of Cincinnati Medical Center. His parents, Fred and Cindy Warmbier, did not specify the cause of death.
But they made clear in a written statement that they blamed North Korea for what happened. Their son was arrested in January 2016 at the end of a brief tourist visit to the isolated country.
“Unfortunately, the awful torturous mistreatment our son received at the hands of the North Koreans ensured that no other outcome was possible beyond the sad one we experienced today,” the Warmbiers said.
Warmbier’s death was mourned by his wide circle of friends and by complete strangers, and it intensified political reaction to his detention, with outraged critics calling it murder.
“There is nothing more tragic for a parent than to lose a child in the prime of life,” President Trump said in a statement. “Our thoughts and prayers are with Otto’s family and friends, and all who loved him.
“Otto’s fate deepens my Administration’s determination to prevent such tragedies from befalling innocent people at the hands of regimes that do not respect the rule of law or basic human decency. The United States once again condemns the brutality of the North Korean regime as we mourn its latest victim.”
Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz), chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said in a statement: “Otto Warmbier, an American citizen, was murdered by the Kim Jong-un regime. In the final year of his life, he lived the nightmare in which the North Korean people have been trapped for 70 years: forced labor, mass starvation, systematic cruelty, torture, and murder.
“North Korea is threatening its neighbors, destabilizing the Asia-Pacific region, and rapidly developing the technology to strike the American homeland with nuclear weapons. Now it has escalated to brutalizing Americans, including three other citizens currently imprisoned in North Korea. The United States of America cannot and should not tolerate the murder of its citizens by hostile powers.”
Sen. Benjamin L. Cardin (Md.), ranking Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said in a statement that “Otto is dead because of Kim Jong-un’s repressive, murderous regime,” and that North Korea “must be held accountable for their continued barbaric behavior.”
Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) also said North Korea must be held accountable for the “murder.”
Otto Warmbier death could push Congress or the Trump administration to restrict or ban Americans from traveling to North Korea.
Reps. Adam B. Schiff (D-Calif.) and Joe Wilson (R-S.C.) have introduced the North Korea Travel Control Act in the House, which would require Americans who want to travel to North Korea to obtain a license. There would be no licenses for tourists.
The Senate has been more reluctant to introduce restrictions on Americans — but Warmbier’s death might be the trigger that they need, analysts say.